Regardless of which way you lean politically, Jacinda Ardern’s pregnancy has got a lot of people talking. Underneath the politics is a woman pregnant with her first baby in a very high pressure job that carries a lot of expectations – not just those of the people around her but her own and her partner’s as well.
Most of the headlines and opinions I have read so far are in favour and support of Jacinda Ardern’s pregnancy and baby plans. At the time of writing she has stated she will take 6 weeks’ leave with her partner after which time he’ll continue on as the primary caregiver and she’ll return to the workforce. I asked some local Auckland mum’s to find out what they thought about this move since the media have only really focussed on the job rather than the motherhood aspect.
The Question I asked was:
“What do you think about Jacinda Ardern’s decision about returning to work 6 weeks after having her baby?”
Here are a few of the responses:
‘It’s not something I feel is the right thing to do for herself and of course for the baby but I also believe it’s every mothers choice to do what she thinks is best.’
‘I personally think it’s too soon but understand her position and the horrible scrutiny she’ll be under whatever she decides to do?
‘I think it is amazing she is having a baby but not sure she realises how hard it will be to do leave her baby until she holds him/her for the first time. I think it will be incredibly hard for both her and the baby but if dad is hands on from the start, it will be easier. I couldn’t have done it. I just feel a bit sad for her.’
‘I respect her choice and I don’t think it will be detrimental to the baby because he/she will still be with a full-time primary caregiver – Clarke will be a stay at home dad’
Let me make this very clear: this blog is not an attack Jacinda Ardern and her proposed choices on how she chooses to care for her baby - mothers need to be more supported by other mothers, not judged. The issue here is that Jacinda becoming the ultimate multi-tasker is being glorified: That having a baby and getting straight back to work full time after only 6 weeks makes her superwoman! My concern is that this is this placing unfair societal pressure by role modelling – an expectation that mothers should be doing it all by juggling numerous roles including looking after a baby, running the household, paid work and being a wife. I personally don’t that think this is something to be hailed as a great thing for mothers. Feminism is about empowerment - not that woman should do everything! Let’s not sugar coat it; in line with the comments from above returning to work after 6 weeks would be extremely hard for any mother in any kind of role, not just the Prime Minister of New Zealand. And this is why…
There are many physical and hormonal changes that take place after having a baby that are important for many reasons other than the most obvious – actually meeting the biological needs of the baby. Hang on, has anyone even thought about what is in the best interests of the baby here? Perhaps we have but are all too afraid to say it out loud because might make other mothers feel guilty for choices that they have made. Many mothers do need to return to work soon after having a baby for financial reasons and nor is this an attack on them. Being a stay at home parent has become a privilege in today’s society however we do need to also acknowledge that they do an incredibly hard and very important job.
Stay at home dads totally rule and it’s great to see Clarke role modelling the importance of a father’s involvement in raising a baby. However, mother and fathers are different again for obvious biological reasons – in the simplest terms they cannot carry a baby and they do not have breasts for feeding. In the early days, weeks and even months dads tend to feel rather hopeless and it’s not their fault - mum gets a 9 month head start. She has already begun the bonding and attachment process with her baby, right from conception. After birth both mother and baby produce large amounts of oxytocin which further supports the development of that relationship. The baby spends many hours of the day in close proximity to its mother who it instinctively knows can provide food and comfort including a familiar smell and voice while it transitions and adapts to life outside the womb.
I wonder if Jacinda knows that baby brain is a real thing? From what I can see this is a major obstacle she will need to overcome. The brain in simple terms is made up of 2 sides, the right side controls feeling and emotions and the left side controls logical thinking and decision making. Babies use majority of the right side of their brain to form attachment with loved ones. Once a mother gives birth the left side of her brain becomes less active and the right side goes into overdrive to allow crucial bonding to take place. This is why new mums are very sensitive to things people do and say that would not normally bother them. Jacinda’s job involves making important left brain decisions for the wellbeing of New Zealanders so I am a little nervous for her. Now let’s add sleep deprivation to that equation. Crikey!
Surely she does know that breast is best and is probably planning to breastfeed or mix feed for a period of time – more than 6 weeks though? I am picturing Clarke driving around following Jacinda from place to place with a hungry, screaming, red faced baby yelling ‘he/she won’t take the bottle.’ Personally I would love to see some media interviews with her boob out but we probably won’t. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see her feeding her baby in public places and baby wearing? This would be some real positive role modelling! Without this type of contact pumping and bottle feeding breast milk may not be sustainable long term.
I really hope that Jacinda will be kind to herself and allow herself some more physical recovery time before returning to work for everyone’s sake – more 6 months than 6 weeks. Nobody should judge her for that. Early separation from her baby will ultimately risk her mental health as well as the baby’s and really nobody will be winning. The first 3-6mths of life with a new baby is an intensely emotional time while you spend time getting to know each other. After these first few months the transient nature of it all begins to settle and life resumes somewhat back to as it was.
But most importantly this baby will be loved by its parents and by the nation. Babies that have loving responsive parents do well. Best of luck to Jacinda and Clarke, it is going to be an incredible journey with many challenges – many common and some that are unique just to them.
What gives us happiness also comes with pain and as this is the only way we can truly appreciate the best things in life. Being a parent is the best job in the world.
Amy and Elspeth